How Do You Show an ROI in Your Training?

Many organizations will tell you they measure training. Why shouldn’t they as a lot of time and effort go into developing and presenting training? Organizations, hopefully, use the following steps when developing their training:

  • Needs assessment
  • Curriculum design
  • Training materials development
  • Identification of attendees
  • Presentation of training
  • Evaluation

Each of those steps is critical to the development of needs-based training that should change behaviors or outcomes in an organization.  So how do you show it has value?

So when you ask your training department how they measure training effectiveness what answer do you get? Are you shown a summation of the stereotypical “how did you like our training today?” “How knowledgeable was the Trainer about the material presented?” and did it include forward-looking questions such as:

  • How much time do you think you will spend using what you learned today?
  • Will this training change how you approach your work?

Will they respond by telling you they are using Kirkpatrick’s Four-Level Training evaluation model? If they do that is a really good answer. You need to then qualify it by asking them what level they are on. (knowing what it is and really using it are two separate things) True training measurement happens at level 4 because it measures the desired outcomes that training was supposed to achieve. If they are only at level 1 or 2, that is okay. Achieving Level 4 takes time. They should have a plan and a timetable to get to level 4. This won’t happen overnight but it shouldn’t take forever and a day either. Understanding the real value of training comes from understanding how it achieves long-term results. A results focus on training, as opposed to the all too common event and volume focus, ensures that training dollars are well invested instead of simply spent.

It is not uncommon for results-focused training measurement to last as long as 90 days after training occurs. I am going to suggest that isn’t long enough. The most well-known measurements of long-term results affect performance, productivity, and profitability. These results, or outcomes, indicate the success of the enterprise. These indicate that the organization is both accountable and successful in its stewardship of resources and that includes financial resources. Training should have an impact on them.

Results of training can be measured individually through tracking Key Performance Indicators or can be measured organizationally through similar productivity indicators. Items such as waste reduction, COGS, profit per FTE, etc. Even ubiquitous metrics such as time to hire, employee turnover, etc. can be used to measure the ultimate Return on Investment of training.

When you are measuring this Return on Investment (ROI) for training it is important that you ensure two key things are happening:

  • Are those who were trained following the training faithfully
  • Are the trained methods and behaviors being monitored to ensure that they are being followed and that effectiveness or even ineffectiveness is being verified?

In other words is management tracking, supervising and ensuring that what their team members were taught is in fact what they are doing? Further, when deviations from the trained process or behavior modification are found, is it being corrected?

If training isn’t being applied and reinforced by management, then training is simply an activity that uses up valuable resources. Management is an integral part of ensuring the effectiveness of training and its key responsibility is ensuring that trained processes and behaviors are in fact occurring.

A word of caution. Just because you had training and something changed doesn’t mean it was the result of training. It is imperative that a reasonable effort is made to show a direct relationship (cause/effect) between training and the outcome. This could be as simple as demonstrating specific changes in a process flow chart that occurred and positively impacted the outcome. It could be as complex as having a control group that was never trained in the new way of doing business and comparing outcomes. Regardless of the method, a causal relationship should be demonstrated.

It is important to note that this is not something you can wake up one morning and decide to do. The ability to measure training in this manner takes time. And also buy-in from all levels of management. That includes the very top leadership. Getting management to begin to enforce new processes and behaviors learned in training is also an exercise in training. You are going to have to go beyond the “How good was training” type measurement that most organizations do and then evolve. You will have to evolve into assessing what those trained have learned. This is most commonly done by an end of training evaluation or test. That gets followed by measuring if those trained are actually using the trained upon materials. This is where management starts to impact training. Is management a barrier by not allowing the new processes or behavior, or is management supportive of the new methods? Once that is mastered the outcomes can effectively be measured.

Training should be an investment and not an expense. Unfortunately, many organizations experience only the expense coupled with volume and experience measurements. To sustain training and as a result to become a strategic learning organization it will take much more.